Hungry Badger Digs Up a Trove of Roman Coins in Spain

badger standing beside daisies
Researchers say the badger that found the coins was possibly digging for food or to make a nest. Sally Longstaff via Flickr under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A badger burrowing inside a cave in northwest Spain helped bring to light a hoard of Roman coins hidden there for centuries. The animal was probably seeking food or digging a nest when it unearthed some of the coins, reports Jack Guy for CNN. Local resident Roberto García discovered the coins and called in archaeologists, who found that the badger had dug up more than 90 coins. 

“When we arrived we found the hole that led to the badger’s nest, and the ground around it full of coins,” dig director Alfonso Fanjul Peraza tells CNN.

After searching La Cuesta cave, located in the municipality of Grado, the team found a total of 209 late Roman-era coins, dated from between 200 and 400 C.E. The coins appear to have been forged in places as far-flung as Constantinople, Greece and London, reports Vincente G. Olaya for El País. While other ancient Roman coins have been found in the area, including a cache of 14 gold coins discovered in the 1930s, the new find represents the largest set of such coins ever discovered in northern Spain.

The researchers published their findings in the Journal of Prehistory and Archaeology.

The badger may have dug up the coins while searching for food or shelter during a huge snowstorm that hit Spain in January 2021, reports CBS News. The storm was the most intense of the past 50 years and left many animals struggling to find berries, worms or insects to eat.

pile of Roman coins
The coins were minted between 200 and 400 C.E. in different parts of the Roman Empire. Alfonso Fanjul Peraza

Most of the coins are made of copper and bronze, reports Ashifa Kassam for the Guardian. The largest, a well-preserved coin minted in London and weighing more than eight grams, contains 4 percent silver. 

Roman forces arrived in the Iberian Peninsula, where Spain and Portugal are located today, in 219 B.C.E., ousting the Carthaginians. Per Spain Then and Now, it took almost 200 years for Rome to fully conquer the peninsula’s diverse tribal groups. The region remained under Roman rule until the early fifth century, when groups including the Sueves, Vandals and Visigoths began challenging the empire’s control.

Fanjul Peraza says refugees hiding in the area during conflicts among these groups may have hidden the coins in the cave.

“We think it’s a reflection of the social and political instability which came along with the fall of Rome and the arrival of groups of barbarians to northern Spain,” he tells CNN.

The coins are being cleaned and will be put on display at the Archaeological Museum of Asturias. 

The team plans to return to the area for further excavations and research, as well as to investigate whether the cave was simply a hiding place or if people lived in the area. Fanjul Peraza tells CNN that there may be more artifacts to be found there, and that future discoveries may help historians understand more about the fall of the Roman Empire and the making of medieval kingdoms in northern Spain.

“We think it’s an ideal site to learn more about the people that were living through this transition,” he says.

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